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'We can come together': War widow walks for unity in Inaugural Parade

By JACK "MILES" VENTIMIGLIA | The Daily Star-Journal, Warrensburg, Mo. | Published: January 22, 2017

Warrensburg — Air Force Maj. Philip D. Ambard, 44, embraced America’s freedoms, his widow, Linda Ambard, said Friday before walking in his honor during the Inaugural Parade.

“It’s about these ideals, it’s about these freedoms, it’s about the fact that we can have differences of opinions, but we can come together and we can talk,” Ambard, Warrensburg, said. “We are given so much, and we take for granted what we’re given, and it’s so personal to me. Here’s a man who wasn’t born American, but loved her so much that he was going to serve until he couldn’t serve any more, and then he gave everything there was to give.”

Maj. Ambard, of French and Venezuelan descent, came at age 12 to the United States from Venezuela, Linda Ambard said while waiting before the parade in a staging tent where members of the group, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, gathered.

“He joined the military to get his citizenship,” Ambard said.

For the first 16 years of his military career, he served as an enlisted man who rose through the ranks to senior master sergeant, and went on to serve the last 10 years of his career as a rising officer, she said.

“He was an Air Force Academy professor when he was killed,” Ambard said.

Maj. Ambard taught his primary languages, French and Spanish, and spoke eight others, she said.

“This man was the most amazing man I have ever met,” Ambard said. “He asked me out 19 times before I finally said yes on the 20th time. We eloped four months later. … He was funny, he was fully present. One of the best compliments he ever gave me was for our 23rd wedding anniversary, right before he left. He said, ‘We have a great marriage, but we’re great parents.’ And we were great parents – together.”

The Ambards had five children, four of whom are in the military and the fifth is a college graduate. She said Maj. Ambard loved their children.

“We were involved in Scouts, we were involved in church, we were involved in school, we volunteered our time everywhere,” Linda Ambard said. “We tried to model the values that we wanted our kids to have. He taught me to love our country and he taught our kids to love our country.”

Maj. Ambard urged the children to serve, if not in the military, then in another meaningful way, Ambard said. He enjoyed service and he enjoyed family, she said.

“He could drive you nuts with his sense of humor,” Ambard said, and gave an example involving Maj. Ambard and the children. “He said, ‘Linda, Linda, come quick!’ I ran up the stairs and I see him holding our youngest son, who was in the seventh grade, but weighed all of 50 pounds, and I could only see (the boy’s) foot looked black, blue and purple. He said, ‘Get in the car, get in the car, we’ve got a real problem!’ And we’re on our way to the Air Force Academy emergency room, and then I heard all this snickering. They had painted our youngest son’s foot with shoe polish and markers – it looked like frostbite. I could have killed them all.”

In Afghanistan, Maj. Ambard taught foreign languages, including to allied Afghan troops. He ate lunch and practiced languages regularly with an Afghan air force veteran, Col. Ahmad Gull, 48, who knew nine languages – a man Maj. Ambard considered a friend April 27, 2011.

“That’s the part that hurts, that this was somebody that Phil liked and trusted, knew about Phil’s family, and this guy was a poser from the start,” Ambard said. “He was so nasty that he didn’t shoot Phil to kill him first, he shot him to hurt him first, and then he shot to assassinate him.”

In a room full of American and Afghan soldiers at the Afghan Command and Control Center, Gull bypassed the Afghans to kill Maj. Ambard and eight other Americans: Lt. Col. Frank D. Bryant Jr., 37, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona; Maj. Jeffrey O. Ausborn, 41, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; Maj. David L. Brodeur, 34, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Master Sgt. Tara R. Brown, 33, Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility Washington, Maryland; Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II, 40, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Capt. Nathan J. Nylander, 35, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Maj. Charles A. Ransom, 31, of Langley-Eustis; and a civilian contractor, James McLaughlin.

International Security Assistance Force concluded the gunman, who carried two weapons, acted alone and had no connection with the Taliban.

“It does not wash,” Ambard said.

Ambard said Gull targeted only the Americans in the room.

“There have been so many versions of what happened that day that I call (the military account) the fairytale version,” Ambard said. “I’ve been briefed by all sorts of really high mucky mucks. We’ll never know exactly what happened. But what I will tell you is that we lost nine people that day, and the 23 Afghan soldiers that were in the room with them – they all got out alive. … Any one of our nine would have died for any one of those 23, but not one of theirs stood up for us.”

The Taliban sought to take responsibility, NATO issued a denial, and Gull’s brother said Gull had no Taliban connection and suffered from mental illness, CNN reported at the time.

Ambard said she knows the devastation of losing a spouse to war and more must be done to ensure “allies” are allies.

“I never want any family to go through what my family has gone through,” she said.

As part of pre-Inaugural Parade activity, Ambard went through a security check. She expected tight security.

Being in the parade is not about supporting one candidate over another, she said.

“I walk in the parade not because I’m political,” she said. “My husband did not grow up in our country, he chose our country; he chose to serve in our country for 26 years when he didn’t have to.”

The nation needs to make that same commitment to each other, she said.

“We need to stand as one,” Ambard said.

To see her walk in the parade would have meant a lot to Maj. Ambard, she said.

“He embodied what this country was founded on. This country was founded by immigrants that came here for an ideal, a dream, a purpose, and it’s only fitting that I’m here, because that’s standing up for that ideal, that dream, that purpose. It doesn’t matter what party I voted for, it matters that we are standing as one as a nation.”

Ambard said she now works to help military families get help to overcome problems, including PTSD, domestic violence and addiction. She speaking for them, with speaking publicly being something she never did until after Maj. Ambard’s murder.

“I spoke to get the media off of my children, initially,” after Maj. Ambard’s death, she said. “And I realized that it’s not for me (that I speak) but it’s for all those families coming after me, and for all of my military brothers and sisters in uniform.”

©2017 The Daily Star-Journal (Warrensburg, Mo.)
Visit The Daily Star-Journal (Warrensburg, Mo.) at www.dailystarjournal.com
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An envoy of representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines march in front of President Donald Trump's inauguration parade on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
MICHAEL S. DARNELL/STARS AND STRIPES

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